Providing moral support and creature comforts for service personnel extended to all walks of life in wartime Britain

With the onset of World War Two, the sudden, massive expansion of Britain’s armed forces created potential service welfare issues. Multiple benevolent organisations and individuals volunteered to do many unglamorous but valuable tasks to support the troops. An aspect of wartime history that is largely forgotten today, the important work of these altruistic volunteers should be celebrated.

This great national response was not new: the public had rallied to help in previous conflicts. Indeed, there were many similarities to welfare activities during World War One, when the song Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts For Soldiers echoed across Britain. However, this time, one of the first groups to respond were not those who sewed, but those who knitted.

Although a rather niche handicraft today, back then millions of people knitted while listening to the wireless, in air raid shelters, on public transport or simply to pass the time. However, the activity took on a whole new significance, as one official document noted: “Knitting is no longer a pleasant hobby. No one makes jokes about knitters now, for knitting is no joke. It is a great war industry, run by an unnumbered host of workers who ask no pay and expect no profits. Their reward comes to them in the knowledge that the work they do will bring real comforts to the armies and our fighters who are facing severe weather conditions as well as all the dangers of total war. The woman who knits, like her sisters in the munitions factories and in the hospitals, is doing important war work.”

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